The state will seek bids as soon as next month for an aggressive project to rebuild storm-battered stretches of Route 35, with construction to start and continue through peak summer months in hopes of restoring the busy Jersey Shore corridor as soon as possible.
The project, unveiled today by Gov. Chris Christie, aims to repair a 12.5-mile stretch between Point Pleasant Beach and the Berkeley section of Seaside Park, using more than $200 million in federal funds over two years, according to a news release. After suffering severe damage in Hurricane Sandy, the highway is slated to be rebuilt with features like pump stations and 24-inch-thick roadways, which will be three times the current thickness.
Hurricane Sandy "tossed around the roadway's massive concrete slabs like dominos, and destroyed the roadway's underground drainage system," Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson said in a prepared statement. The state is accelerating the work to "help restore a sense of normalcy as residents and businesses rebuild" along the Jersey Shore.
State officials said the DOT normally limits summer construction activity along highways that link to the Shore and other vacation destinations. But the new project will continue through this summer and next summer, with completion expected by summer 2015.
"I don't see where you really have much choice," said George Lobman, an associate vice president with AECOM in New Jersey, referring to the DOT's schedule. He noted that the roadway was so badly damaged that it would be difficult to "do things piecemeal in the way we normally would in government construction."
"You can't do that here because the road is in such bad repair," said Lobman, a former DOT project engineer for 34 years. "I can see why it would take some real intensive work, and I don't know that there's any other way of actually doing that kind of work."
The DOT expects to seek bids on the first three contracts next month, with shovels in the ground this summer for a stretch between the southern edge of Point Pleasant Beach to the Mantoloking-Brick border, the news release said. The project has been divided into three geographic sections, and contracts for the remaining two will be advertised by July.
The DOT said the highway's current drainage system "fails on a routine basis during heavy downpours, prompting an overhaul that includes pump stations and new underground utility lines. The news release also said future repairs will be easier and more efficient, with the new asphalt surface and "stabilizing sub-base materials."
The new roadway will also include pedestrian- and bicyclist-friendly features on stretches of state-owned land, the release said.
Lobman said those affected by the project will likely be split between "people who don't like the intrusion in their neighborhoods during the summer months and … people who just want to see it done and get out of there." But he said the work is critical as the Shore region works to rebuild and adjust after being devastated by Sandy.
"There are a lot of things that are going to change out there, but the one thing that isn't is the fact that you need to have that transportation avenue that goes north to south," Lobman said. "The only way to do it is to really concentrate on it and get it done as fast as you can."